Reference Services Evaluation

The Research Hub in the James P. Boyce Centennial Library serves as the primary research service point at Southern Seminary. Many libraries have a reference desk; Boyce Library has a Research Hub. Serving a narrow niche of students in humanities sub-disciplines, the library chose to hire doctoral student in these disciplines to rotate shifts at the Hub—as opposed to a typical reference librarian. Their subject knowledge and training (provided upon hire) allow them a unique ability to serve Southern Seminary’s students.

Every service may improve, though, requiring evaluation of current student use and staff performance. The evaluation below examines both patron needs and staff service, in person, at the Research Hub. The goal is to determine who uses the Research Hub, why or in what way they use it (their requests), and if Hub staff adequately provide service for the students’ needs.

1. Participants

  • This study will consider those students at Southern Seminary’s library who seek assistance in person at the Research Hub (reference desk).
  • Every student interaction will be tallied by staff. Additionally, every student will be invited to participate in the student survey portion to ensure the broadest possible participation by the broadest cross-section of students.
  • The staff portion of the results will exactly represent the student population using the Research Hub. The student survey will included fewer students but remain proportionally correct.
  • A combination of several different books and gift cards, totaling $300, will ensure serve as incentives appealing to the broad group of participants. Each item will be awarded individually, ensuring several chances to win and increase participation.

2. Data Collection Methods

  • Several data collection methods could be used in this evaluation, though a couple are better suited to the purpose. Focus groups and interviews would serve well if the goal were to gather suggestions on better or different services. However, the goal at this point is only to gauge how well the services are rendered; a survey could gather the same information from a broader group. In addition to a survey, observation will serve this evaluation well. Staff will observe students and provide the needed information. But observation would be largely a guess if used to determine satisfaction level. Therefore, the survey and observation serve well together.
  • Several survey tools could be used to gather both student and staff portions of the evaluation. However, Google Forms appears to work best. Staff have Google accounts with which to share the staff form. That enables easy access from their individual account. At the same time, a couple of laptop computers stationed near by, as well as cards containing a short link to the form (to fill the form out later), could serve to gather student responses. Responses from both staff and student would all be in Google Drive and easy to combine and graph.
  • A pilot test would be conducted with staff recording basic information about each student transaction (student type, question type, level of difficulty, length of time to answer, etc.). Question type would fall on a “level” grading scale of 1–4 following Meserve, Belanger, Bowlby, and Rosenblum’s (2009) work. Students would also be encouraged to help test the evaluation by answering questions such as student type, question type, satisfaction with staff answer (scale 1–5), likelihood of asking additional questions at the Hub (scale 1–5), and then open ended questions such as: “Explain why you believe staff service was good (or poor)? and What could staff do to improve service for your question”? The combination of set answers and open answers allow sorting results as well as more in-depth feedback from students.

3. Environment (Location)

  • This evaluation would take place at the Research Hub in the library. Information about the evaluation would be provided in print, at the Hub, and in person—by staff at the Hub. No other evaluations will take place during the same time frame.

4. Personnel (Training)

  • Personnel training will be short, consisting of a simple walk-through of the Google forms. Staff will need to be reminded each shift to complete their surveys for each student as well as encourage students to submit a survey and enter the incentive raffle. Staff would be able to coach any student who struggles with the survey form. The only difficulty in training would be in answering the question level type, as noted above. Staff may grade these levels incorrectly, but the pilot test and training will help alleviate confusion (Meserve, Belanger, Bowlby, & Rosenblum, 2009).

5. Equipment and Supplies

  • Staff will use their current equipment at the Hub—laptops and iPads—for their surveys. Students would be able to use on of the library’s laptops—stationed on a table next to the Hub—or use their own computers or devices with the provided form URL. No equipment cost would be incurred as the library’s existing equipment would suffice.

Meserve, H. C., Belanger, S. E., Bowlby, J., & Rosenblum, L. (2009). Developing a Model for Reference Research Statistics. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 48(3), 247–258.

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